Monday, 28 November 2011

Igloo and Penguin Cake for a Child's Birthday Party

I have written before about my rather amateurish attempts at making children's birthday cakes, e.g. the bizarre looking hedgehog cake that I had to make for years for both my children.  So, my 12 year old daughter threw me a curve ball when she asked for an 'Igloo and Penguin' cake.  In Tavistock Rockin' Beads (brilliant place with tuition and some amazing beads for sale, currently running drop in Mince Pie Monday workshops) we found these penguin beads and the deal was done.
I made a chocolate sponge mixture and put them in a greased pudding basin and a ramekin.  Not looking very igloo-like yet...
 I wanted snow-white icing, but thought regular water and icing sugar would be too runny, royal icing would be too thick and heavy, so I created a cream cheese frosting and slathered it on.  Uh-oh, it felt like it might turn into a hedgehog again.

 It wasn't quite as bright white as I had intended, but I had committed to it and there was no turning back.  I marked on some rather messy brickwork on the igloo, added white chocolate drops for a pathway, made a small pond out of blue 'ready roll' icing that I found in the back of the cupboard and sprinkled it with edible blue glitter.  A couple of handfuls of icing sugar later, I decided to add a Playmobil tree (nope, no trees in the Antarctic, but then again, penguins don't really live in igloos either!)...and da-daaaah:
 I broke the cardinal (and somewhat weird) rule of novelty cakes where everything on the plate is supposed to be edible.  Doh! one plastic tree and Doh! two china penguins.

And the girls went mad with some Baking Mad products I received through the post and decorated six cupcakes each and had a great, messy, sugary time.  We loved the Gold Lustre edible paint and the Giant Snowies.  The strawberry flavour chocolate buttons were pretty good too. 

Monday, 21 November 2011

Review: Complicite - The Master and Margarita, Plymouth Theatre Royal

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov has been one of my favourite books since I read it as as student 20 years ago.  It is devilishly zany; it has a very cool Satan character, Woland; it satirises the Soviet system and bureaucracy; it's clever, knowing, self-referential, ahead of its time: all about the artist vs the state, an artist in love, the nature of compassion, and it throws in quite a few bits of delicious knockabout black comedy (oh, and there's a bit about religion too.)

The Theatre Royal, Plymouth were showing a brand new dramatised version of the novel last week performed by the acclaimed theatre company, Complicite. I booked the tickets months ago, eager to see how such an 'out there' book could be brought to the stage.

The director, Simon McBurney, was the first on stage and half-introduced and half-apologised for the show.  I felt that he was being self-deprecating when he said that he really found the book puzzling and almost pulled out of the project a few weeks, ahem, months (he corrected himself) ago.  We hoped his negativity was pre-show nerves and luvvy language for 'what a lovely show I've created' however, as we left the theatre we hadn't decided if it was a triumph or not.

There was a lot to commend it.  The first half got me involved hugely and after nearly two hours, I actually didn't want the interval to take place as I felt it broke down my involvement in the Moscow scenes.

Pontious Pilate forgot a lot of his words in his intial scene and had to be prompted.  It wouldn't have been so noticeable but the lighting and sound effects are a major part of this production and a camera was beaming his super-sized visage onto the whole of the back of the stage.  I suppose he was torn in his compassion versus anger with Yeshua, and I felt similarly towards Pilate - learn your words, sir, I've paid good dosh for this seat! Ah poor man, he's doing his best, the other part of me thought.

Yeshua was a stark, skinny and very naked man for most of his appearance.  I felt this worked well.  He was a persecuted prisoner - and we no longer have the need for skimpy torn half-covered nether regions.  His vulnerability to us, yet his own ease with (or the irrelevance of) his nakedness was an interesting situation.

Later on, Margarita spent a long time naked on stage and I felt totally different about this.  I felt so sorry for her  - it seemed to be overly-extended.  Considering this was a long (3.5 hour) performance, the naked Margarita scenes at the Moscow Ball and flying over the city were a bit out of balance with the rest of the play.  Yes, it was a date with the devil and it had to seem to be dark and threatening, but it was over long and ended up being a bit tedious.

Woland was a terrific devil.  His shining teeth, German accent and dark glasses were spot on.  It was a bit of a shame that the same actor also played The Master - I wanted to see them both together and didn't want them to be a Jekyll and Hyde type character who had to keep disrobing.  The baseball capped sidekick Koroviev was truly menacing, the stuff of nightmares.  The cat.....oh, the cat! Where to begin?  A wonderfully hip thrusting, mangy skeletal puppet....but a white cat with a green face!  It had to be a black cat.  Why change that fundamental symbol?  And they played the Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter and not Sympathy for the Devil (too obvious?  It was inspired by the book, The Master and Margarita).

The staging was great in places - I loved the visual effect of the brick wall falling down at the end.  The projections on the back wall worked well and were quite breathtaking at times.  The microphone special effects worked well in places but were used too frequently and became irritating.  And too frequent use of chairs as weapons and symbols of intimidation (irritation?)

There were moments of brilliance, grotesqueness and hilarity, but I was not entirely won over.  I am disgruntled because these three performances were regarded as a 'run through' prior to the European tour and fortnight at The Barbican.  There were no programmes on sale.  McBurney even referred to the Saturday night performance as being their 'first night, Friday was the dress rehearsal.' Well, I didn't know that when I bought a ticket!!  Is this a case of 'Don't worry it's just Devon'?  I'm sure theatre performances do progress and mutate as they go on tour, however I didn't really want to be witness to such an unfinished spectacle when I had paid full price for the privilege.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Review: Hotel Chocolat Advent Calendar 'Truffles to Share'

This advent calendar was gratefully received courtesy of Hotel Chocolat and it felt really naughty to eat the whole thing by 14 November!  However, I had a review to do, so I had the perfect excuse.    I'm guessing this is aimed at Double Income No Kids Yet couples (can anyone else afford £24 for an advent calendar?) who want to share a high end product. The (rather seductive) gimmick is that there are two chocolates behind each window.   I do have children and they were very excited about it, but they only liked one or two of the truffle flavours.  In fact rather than bickering over who would have the chocolates we were all saying 'No, go on, you have the mulled wine truffle.'

 I loved the Salted Soft Caramel and quite liked the gingerbread truffle, the plain and milk truffles, but the mulled wine flavour was rejected by all of us and only one of us, my 10 year old son, liked the cinnamon praline. All the chocs were the same nipple shape.  It would have been more fun with some variation e.g. Stars, trees, snowmen etc

On the plus side, two chocs per advent window is a great idea.  Right sized chocolates, three quarter sized = a nice mouthful.  

Negatives: high price and dubious flavours. The packaging design was half right: I liked the sparkly icicle and tree pattern but there was an ugly strip of white cardboard down the middle on the hinge of the calendar. 
It would have been nice if the website had listed the truffle flavours contained within this calendar.  There are some very tiny icon symbols to show they contain e.g. alcohol, nuts, milk etc ( hey, hotel choc, can you make those symbols a bit larger?  They're very difficult to interpret in such a small size) but no list of flavours.
Overall our verdict was that it is a good concept, a little overpriced with not particularly yummy chocolate.
There are four other advent calendars in the range.  I think the others have festive shaped chocs inside and are priced at £12-17
 Rather interesting that their website is also advertising a 'Cheese and Chocolate Tasting Experience.'  As a youngster I discovered the taste sensation of pairing mature cheddar cheese with Kit Kats, a guilty pleasure, but I've always been a fan of sweet-savoury combos.  They even use chocolate as a 'cracker' for cheese and serve sweet relishes instead of Branston.  Whooh.  Brave, but I'm liking it.

Monday, 7 November 2011

The Avocet Cafe, Topsham

The Avocet Cafe is a dear little place on the high street in Topsham.  It has one tiny two seater table squeezed onto the pavement and a further seven or eight on the inside.  They do good value, homemade produce focusing on local products.  Previously I've had their savoury cream tea which was a homemade scone with creme fraiche and South Devon Chilli Farm jam.

This time after a beautiful meander along the nearby Goat Walk next to the River Exe, we had tea and homemade teacakes.  Apparently when the council were trying to decide what to name the new estuarine promenade in 1908 a local man proclaimed 'It's nowt but a bloody goat walk!' and the name stuck.  When we walk along there with the children we totally embarrass them by making like goats.  But today we had no kids to embarrass, therefore no billy goats gruff antics.

The Avocet was recently recommended in the Guardian's Top 10 Best Budget Eats for Exeter.

 On the way to the Ladies (through the kitchen and out in the back garden) I was very envious of the plucked pumpkins.

 Another place that does homemade teacakes (and bless them for going to the trouble of a yeasty bun) is the excellent Dartmoor Tea Rooms.

Featured post

Taste of the Teign Food and Drink Festival 25 September - 1 October 2017

South Devon’s third year of the most exciting celebrations of local produce is Taste of the Teign Food and Drink Festival.  This f...